Regulating cannabis: City ordinances weigh in on marijuana dispensaries

The cities of Humboldt County have taken the lead on regulating cannabis as the county trudges on with its development of a medical marijuana ordinance that will cover rural and unincorporated areas of the North Coast.

Medical marijuana regulations have been cropping up throughout the county in the last three years as an answer to the growing issue of grow houses, both legal and illegal, and a lack of consistency between state and federal laws. Here is the current status of various city ordinances in Humboldt County:


Arcata’s medical marijuana guidelines, approved in November 2008, restricts cultivation space to 50 feet and 10 feet in height for residential grows. Dispensaries have to obtain on-site cultivation permits that dictate that the cultivation cannot exceed 25 percent of the total floor area, with a maximum of 1,500 feet and 10 feet in height. Dispensary guidelines include operation standards, a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in the area and prohibiting the display of cannabis plants on signs.


Eureka approved its guidelines for residential and commercial cultivation in August 2010. For patients, growing medical marijuana can only occur in the residence where the patient lives, and the garden must be 50 square feet, or less. Lighting cannot exceed 1,200 watts, and there must be no external evidence of marijuana cultivation, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance limits the number of stand-alone dispensaries
to two and dispensaries with cultivation sites to four. Last week, the city adopted changes to the commercial side of the ordinance, including limiting the size of exterior signs to 6 square feet, allowing only one dispensary per cultivation and processing facility, and prohibiting the display of cannabis plants on signs.


The Fortuna City Council adopted a ban of medical marijuana in July 2008, mentioning Arcata as a location of close proximity for dispensaries. At the time, Arcata was the only city in Humboldt County working on an ordinance regulating dispensaries.

Fortuna’s ordinance — which acknowledges the state’s Proposition 215 law allowing the use of medical marijuana — defines a medical marijuana dispensary as any facility or location where medical marijuana is made available or distributed to three or more patients, 215 card holders or primary caregivers.

According to the ordinance, the deciding factor for the council included “the inconsistency between state and federal law,” and “the documented threat to public health, safety and welfare.”

Rio Dell

Prompted by an application to form a medical marijuana collective, the Rio Dell City Council began its moratorium on the establishment of dispensaries in March. The council cited a need to create an ordinance and eventually decided to ban dispensaries from establishing in Rio Dell.

The first reading of its new ordinance — which acknowledge the state’s Proposition 215 law allowing the use of medical marijuana and states that other cities in Humboldt County already have established dispensaries — was introduced on May 3 and will be officially adopted at the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

According to the ordinance, the council decided that “the impacts associated with medical marijuana dispensaries are detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the citizens,” and that the ban would be consistent with federal law.


The city of Ferndale extended its moratorium temporarily banning the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries in March. In anticipation of last year’s Proposition 19 — which would have legalized marijuana — the Rio Dell City Council initiated its moratorium in May 2010.

”With it being on the ballot, it seemed like a prudent thing to see what was going to happen with the state,” City Manager Jay Parrish said. Although the initiative didn’t pass, Parrish said the council is contributing to work on creating some sort of ordinance addressing the issue. He expects to see something more concrete in about 6 months.

Blue Lake

The city of Blue Lake is considering what type of regulations it wants to create following at least two separate inquires in August and September 2010 about using parcels for medical marijuana dispensary activities. The Blue Lake Planning Commission met Thursday night to further discuss the draft ordinance.

The council adopted an interim moratorium on Feb. 22 to allow the city time to determine zoning standards and regulations. In April, the council voted to extend the moratorium and set it to expire on Feb. 22, 2012.

Blue Lake City Manager John Berchtold said the city wants to make sure there are guidelines in place so there is no confusion over land use.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or